Workspace that Works: research forum

Throughout 2016, Future of London’s Workspace that Works programme has been complemented by other organisations in London carrying out their own workspace research. Our Workspace Research Forum on 9 November, hosted by London Councils, brought together some of this research with Pecha Kucha-style presentations from cross-sector professionals. A summary of the presentations and links to research are below.

Lev Kerimol, Principal Regeneration Officer at the GLA discussed findings from the GLA’s research into a wide range of workspaces, including incubators, accelerators, co-working and industrial spaces. Demand across the board is extremely high, particularly for industrial space. However, new workspace often doesn’t have suitable design or fit out to accommodate operators (for example ground floor units in mixed-use developments). It’s crucial for local authorities to bring developers and operators together early to ensure workspaces are fit for purpose.

Sarah Yates, Researcher for NLA’s WRK/LDN programme, noted that despite predictions that technology would bring the death of the office, physical workspace is vital for human interaction and is adapting to technological change – as seen with the rise of ‘third spaces’ for work, such as cafés, hotel lobbies, and public buildings. Rather than take space in traditional sector-oriented districts, companies increasingly seek a stimulating environment for their employees, with a strong offer of amenities and public realm. Cross-borough working, integrating workspaces with transport infrastructure, and finding ways to keep workspace affordable for new businesses are among recommendations to support workspace provision in London.

Anastasia Sandstrom, Senior Research Analyst at Jones Lang LaSalle brought a real estate perspective to the event. Shared workspace is a hot topic in the real estate world as companies increasingly understand that it brings advantages such as knowledge sharing, innovation, talent attraction, cost reduction, and flexibility. Not just the domain of SMEs, large companies are looking at coworking space to encourage internal collaboration or to bring in external collaborators. She noted that barriers to adopting this type of workspace can include issues around security, privacy, and culture clash among businesses.

Alexei Schwab, Head of Programme at Future of London, shared early findings from our Workspace that Works programme. One recurring theme is affordability and how to define it. For example, SMEs using shared workspace often pay more per square foot than in traditional offices; it’s costs associated with long leases, deposits and administration that make office space unaffordable. SME growth is a similarly complicated issue, as not all SMEs pursue growth or create jobs, and those that do grow can struggle to find space to which meets their changing needs. Finally, local authorities have many options to support workspace, such as by working with experienced operators, using council assets, and reducing the bureaucratic burden on providers.

Jessica Ferm, Lecturer at the Bartlett School of Planning, researches council policies around affordable workspace. She identified that industrial businesses in particular were struggling: despite the important role of industrial space to the functioning of London’s economy, this land is under threat from permitted development, pressure for housing and a shift towards mixed-use development that is seen as incompatible with industry. However, industrial sprawl is unsustainable, and a key challenge for London is to provide workspace that fits the needs of industrial businesses and is compatible with mixed-use typologies.

  • Preventing the displacement of small businesses through commercial gentrification: are affordable workspace policies the solution?
  • London’s industrial land: Cause for concern?
  • Delivering affordable workspace: Perspectives of developers and workspace providers in London
  • Beyond the ‘post-industrial’ city: valuing and planning for industry in London

Clive Tritton, Chief Executive at Renaisi, discussed some of the barriers to workspace provision in London. From the operator side, there is appetite to work with local authorities, but perceived bureaucracy is a barrier. From the local authority side, it is often difficult to measure demand for workspace, and planning tools (e.g. Section 106) aren’t always used effectively. Local authorities can enable workspace provision through measures such as better use of Section 106, joint ventures, and involving operators in workspace design. It’s also important to consider industrial workspace and how to move SMEs to more suitable spaces as they grow.

  • How can local authorities get creative with workspace in Outer London?

Kat Hanna, Research Manager at Centre for London, explained the concept of Innovation Districts, or knowledge-producing hubs of research institutions and universities. Innovation Districts tend to be in mixed-use, urbanised areas accessible by public transport. Crucially, those in London are often located among the city’s most deprived neighbourhoods. Integration of the two is a matter of design and governance: Innovation Districts must make themselves truly open and accessible as well as contribute to training and education in the local community.

  • Spaces to Think: Innovation Districts and the Changing Geography of London’s Knowledge Economy